Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Preparing our Children to Succeed in this New Digital World

I was in 6th grade, and we were brought into the computer lab for our last lesson in coding. On the screen blinked a green cursor in one section of a screen, and there was a solid green triangle in the other. About two dozen children anxiously awaited for their next challenge. As this was our last challenge, no instructions were necessary, we knew the commands and syntax to use. The challenge here was a challenge among friends to see who could finish first. And then it came. It was the most complex drawing we had attempted up to that point, an intricate pattern of triangles within triangles.

The Last Logo Coding Challenge

The race was close. I came in second place, but we were all winners that day. We had begun to learn skills that would shape our lives in a world that was soon to be dominated by computers. Those lessons stayed with me until high school when I was next able to take coding classes, and on through college and into my career where I now use coding as a regular part of my job. If it had not been for that 6th grade class, I don’t know that I would have discovered this particular talent of mine, or have the confidence that this talent has given me. That class showed me a side of myself that I didn’t know I had until then, and it was empowering.

So now, I am happy to give back. I had the opportunity to go to a local elementary as a volunteer and teach the children there how to code. Though they no longer use monochromatic screens with blinking cursors, all of the principles are the same: conditional statements, loops, and debugging. Instead of programming triangular patterns, kids can now draw their patterns in color and even program their own versions of flappy bird.

All of this is done through code.org, a non-profit dedicated to help expose more children to the joys of coding by creating free teaching tools, and the Do Good Foundation of InsideSales.com. I was permitted, with some of my colleagues, each Friday for a few weeks to go to local schools to teach coding for a few hours with the great tools that code.org has put out there. The experience was great. The kids loved learning it, and I loved teaching it. The program puts special emphasis on the fact that even if the kids never code again after leaving that classroom, that learning to think computationally (breaking problems down into small steps) is an important skill for anyone to have. And while I definitely agree with that, it is my hope that I have been able to help expose some students to coding who wouldn’t have ever experienced it in any other way.

As the children programmed, it was not uncommon to hear a squeal of delight or enthusiastic “yes” come from a little boy or girl who just solved a challenging puzzle. We taught one child who had been struggling in many subjects in school, but he was thriving in coding. The teacher remarked that she was amazed by the boost of confidence that coding was giving him. I don’t know how many of these children will grow up to be programmers or technology professionals, but I suspect there will be more than a few who years down the road look back and see learning to code as a defining moment for themselves, just as I do and that they too can be winners in this new digital world.

Do you have experience teaching code using tools like code.org? Please share in the comments below and include which tools you used.

Code.org: Anybody can Learn